Category Archives: Assignments

The Solitude of the Long Distance Blade Runner

It’s rare that a movie diverges from a good book in some significant ways and still finds its way to greatness. That is what happened here though.

Let’s begin with the book. Its backbone is relationships, social acceptance, and need. Our character of focus in both the book at the movie, Deckard, struggles immediately with the real, the not real, and the state of the human condition when presented with these alternatives. We are introduced to the Penfield mood organ, the first piece of technology that complicates the relationship between the human and itself and others, and calls into question what is real, what is simulated/stimulated, and what realities those simulations draw a sharp contrast against. In the book, the state of the world is much more explicit as well. These simulations and the impulse, for instance, to own a live animal (or pretend w/ the purchase of an electric one), or to protect one’s reproductive abilities with a codpiece describe the circumstances that these technological interventions are offered in.

The book also offers a more isolating view of our (semi/anti)-hero. The discussions between Deckard and his wife, the romantic interactions with one of his targets, and especially toward the end of the story where he flies out into the vast wastelands with suicidal undertones, only to return with false hope. All of these paint a much more tragic picture of individual life in decaying world than the rugged character we see in the movie. The book’s picture of Deckard is largely pathetic and despondent, as we watch him fail in arguments with his wife, desperately attempt to upgrade his social status, and be tricked by people more powerful than him.


Howard Pyle illustration of pirate marooned, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates.

One of the most fascinating explorations is the nuanced interplay between what is real consciousness / real life, and where the line is drawn between the increasingly blurring line between real and artificial beings and experiences. Deckard’s struggle with his sympathies for the plight of the androids (or at least one, which is enough) and the cognitive dissonance that results from this struggle is at the center of this exploration. The desperate design to own a real live animal instead of a convincing electronic replica is another theme that runs along this duality. The mood organ plays along these lines as well. These technologies all raise questions about the reality of the solution that technology has provided. When it has invaded so completely the aspects of life that govern our emotions, the impact of these technologies becomes much more important.

The film doesn’t touch nearly as much on Deckard’s personal struggle in these ways, and we aren’t given nearly as much explicit information about the state of the planet as in the book, but it offers much more in the scale and mood of life in this “evolved” world. The tone of the scenes, the darkness and brooding that the set design and rain-drenched cityscapes say as much about what the characters’ lives are like as the descriptions in the book, using different media. Much more is said without words, but with long slow pans, and silent stares between the characters. The tension in the dialog also speaks loudly in the film. This rush and anxiety is not quite as palpable in the book.

In the end, both the book and the film have a lot to offer. They both do fascinating things in exploring the gamut of living to non-living, and how we interact with intelligences at points along it.


Project 1 :: Grava (More Updates Due)


Grava is an adaptive chair that responds to the physical presence of the person sitting on it . It is based in generative design methods that utilizes material behavior based computation to allow for kinetic transformations as a passive effect.

The project would primarily investigate material behaviors and explore the possibility of using complaint mechanism within the framework of animating built environments.

Inspiration & Key Motivation

The prototype borrows from Frank Herbert’s ‘Chairdogs’ as described in “The Tactful Saboteur (1964)” and “Whipping Star (1970)”. The ChairDog as the name implies a hybrid between a pet dog and a lounge chair. The chair fits to the user and senses the users mood, and like a massage chair calms and makes the user comfortable. In Herbert’s universe the ChairDog is described in multiple stories as a ubiquitous object with multiple functional and responsive attributes :

The room’s standard model chairDogs had been well trained to comfort their masters, McKie noted. One of them nudged him behind the knees until he dropped his bag and took a reluctant seat. The chairdog began massaging his back. Obviously it had been instructed to make him comfortable while someone was summoned…
He indicated a chairdog against the wall to his right, snapped his fingers. The semi-sentient artifact glided to a position behind McKie. “Please be seated.”
McKie, his caution re alerted by Bolin’s reference to “uninhibited conversation,” sank into the chairdog, patting it until it assumed the contours he wanted.

One of the interesting attribute was that Herbert thought of the ChairDogs not as artifacts with multiple actuators but thought of them almost as if they had lifelike responsive qualities and moved without the use of motors or actuators.
The intention of embedding responsive attributes in our physical environments is a theme that has been used by a number of ther science fiction authors. J.G. Ballard concept of psychotropic house was based on a physical environment constructed using a new form of material plastex (a combination of plaster and latex) allowing for transformation and control of the interal shape of the house. The notion of physical objects physically adjusting and responding to humans can have numerous implications in the way living environments are designed and constructed.

…As I stepped forward, it jerked away, almost in alarm, the entrance retracting and sending a low shudder through the rest of the spheres……It’s always interesting to watch a psychotropic house try to adjust itself to strangers, ………

– From The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista, by J.G. Ballard.

Also Clifford Simak’s self adjusting furniture was an imposratant insoiration , with a direct impact on how Grava was conceived and designed.

The self-adjusting furniture, bought at a time when the management had considered throwing the hostelry open to the alien trade, had been out of date twenty years ago. But it still was there. It had been repainted, in soft and genteel pastels, its self-adjustment features still confined to human forms.

-From First He Died (Time and Again), by Clifford Simak.


The chair responds to the users weight and encloses the user with a soft shell when the user sits on it. It is intended to function as a personal ‘petting’ space , where the user can think and contemplate without external distraction. This privacy/ contemplation pod can be designed to respond and operate only to specific individuals based on weight calibration.

Other possible functions for this system can include
1. As a Gaming Chair with a mounted head display and suspended seating zone to augment the gaming experience .
2. Medical Applications – With the appendages having embedded body scanners
3. Super Massage Chair- integrate pneumatic appendages !
Technology Innovation

The chair is based on a process of topology optimization based complaint mechanism design . Complaint mechanisms are flexible mechanisms that can transfer input forces (such as the weight of a person sitting on the chair) at some other point to perform some usable output action (such as generating a sinusoidal motion on the chair surface ).

A system to design such mechanisms was developed in the Rhino3D/Grasshopper environment using a custom C# script . The process consists of the following steps :

1. Input two dimensional design space boundary
2. Define loads, supports and intended transformation sequences.
3. Generate topology optimization based complaint mechanism .
4. Extract contours based on stiffness gradients.
5. Define flexure hinges and rigid body material in the result.
6. Convert results for fabrication .

An interesting outcome of this process is the visual quality of the results. The skeletal outcome is very organic and reminds me of the HR Geiger’s designs or the chair that was designed for the Space Jockey

Project 2 :: Ivyoid (More Updates Due)

Untitled-1 copyPlantroid is augmented interactive plant pet developed for indoor environments. It is inspired by the the fictional scenario of artificial pets based in epidermits (as proposed by Stuart Karten) in Antonelli’s story “The Design Doyenne Defeats the Dullness”. Its basic setup consists of a living plant that is augmented by a robotic shell. The shell can sense the plants needs (moisture , sun , nutrient levels) and enable communication between the human owner and the plant. The Plantroid autonomously navigates around the house of its owner seeking areas with sunlight to perch in . They are low maintenance pets, seeking the owner’s attention when they need water or nutrients. They have artificial behaviors encoded in their interaction with the human owner such as swirling around with joy when they get the owners attention , or using social media to communicate their needs to the owner.

I developed a quick prototype ( the ‘deadliest’ weapon in a designers toolkit to paraphrase Antonelleii :)) and developed a light seeking robotic chassis on which a plant pod is mounted . Integrating a plant -need sensor into the equation now ( soil moisture , lux levels etc)

Blade Runner

I love the movie very much in general. The scenes of the movie are pretty intriguing – the world is like a twisted big wasteland with large buildings, dark wet streets, strange lightings and dense crowd. One  big difference from the book is that it doesn’t focus much on describing the importance of having a real animal which means you have humanity (vanity). But there is one scene when Deckard asked Zhora if her pet is real, she asked back how a real snake is affordable here. This could be counted as a little hint. Sebastian could be considered a s counterpart in the movie (Methuselah Syndrome) to Isidore in the novel (genetically degraded) human beings. Isidore lives alone in an entire apartment building. Sebastian uses his talents in genetic design to create automata companions. It depicts an atmosphere of loneliness that modern technologies bring.  In both movie and book, what surprises me is how they treat androids as pet, something seems ok to be hunted and killed. The idea of robots showing emotions has always been intriguing and make me a little scary. It also reminds me a movie called Ex Machina, where the owner treats the robots he make as sex toys or experiment tools and eventually got killed by the robot who is programmed to practice the goal of escaping.

A Word Shaped Like Bones

Description: The story begins with a scene of a dead man in a spaceship and all about Maureen’s interactions with him in the rest part. In the last few years, she just sculptures  on this small spaceship in 23rd century when commercialism is out of fashion (how good is that). She assumes the body is a man even if his origin is hard to tell. Their relationship goes interesting at a point that her sculpture is beginning to shape like the dead man. Speaking of Hippocrenes, the interesting planet Maureen’s heading to, people there do not speak in sound and they wrap their tongues together when they wish to communicate.  When the man start to decay and bones are left, she started to feel a great affection for the dead man. Maureen can barely remember a time when she did not love his bones. But it turns out that the man was once someone that she loved very much – her husband…

My POV: From the story, I could feel how an artist’s works are shaped by her/his personal emotions and experience. To be honest, I can figure out a little bit she would fall in love with the bones since I read the first scene of story. Long term interactions with an object in an enclosed space may also leads to affections sometimes. However it’s not a typical science fiction in my mind. It just uses sci-fi as a media to tell a love story. Balancing between rational science and human emotions in a sci-fi story is cirtical.


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